Thursday, April 28, 2005

Language in Decline

I've noticed lately a certain problem with language and its usage. It seems to be on a downward spiral into simplicity.

There are words that should be considered easy to understand in conversation, that get a blank-stare response. Recently, a friend of mine gave me the example of the word "antiquated". I was surprised by the fact that this word was questioned and denounced as "too big a word" (a label which is often used for a word that someone doesn't understand). There seems to be a lack of contextual inference. For example, the sentence "Young people have trouble understanding older generations due to the antiquated nature of their language" gives us very good hints as to the meaning of antiquated.

Secondly, there seems to be a lack of meaning-deduction from the word structure. Many words, like antiquated, contain roots that are easily recognizable. If a sentence without contextual information was used, there still is a possibility of inferring the meaning of the word by it's structure. For example, in a conversation where one is describing a record player, the listener may respond "that's antiquated." The root antiquate- and it's similarity to antique may guide the first converser too infer that the listener has just said "that's old-fashioned" or "I really don't care what your saying because what you've just described is something I threw out ten years ago" (the two meanings, of course, depend on the tone used when the response is uttered).

There are other types of words that have come up in conversation that have been questioned. These words have unfamiliar roots. I used the word "paradox" a while ago. Now the receiving converser had never heard this word before. There could be a few reasons for not knowing this words. First, she was a college freshman, a new one at that. Second, and this only occurs to me know, is that a paradox is more often than not used as scientific and mathematic lingo. It is still a very descriptive word for the types of situation it describes.

(A little context around how the word paradox came up in said conversation. It was a question of why there were less men then women in the ballroom class. My response to this was that dancing is a bit of a paradox with guys. They don't want to embarrass themselves by looking like a dancing monkey, and therefore drive away the women on the dance floor. On the other hand, they know that women like guys who can dance, and therefore the should dance to attract women on the dance floor. This is a paradox in that they attempt to do neither. So the resort to the common method of restoring balance and sanity to a paradoxical universe: they drink large sums of alcohol).

This decline of language can be attributed to two causes. First is newsprint (and via evolution, webprint). The language used is meant for the least common denominator which is the fifth-grade reading level. Apparently, in these days of much-lauded need for higher education journalism does not assume that anyone has made it out of the fifth grade. I think print media has had these accusations thrown it's way ever since the first English-speaking newspaper rolled out in 1622[1],

The second reason, and more powerfully so, is television.
The Department of Education states that language skills are best developed through reading and interactions with others in conversation and play. Excessive television watching can impede this development. Hours spent watching TV make risk-taking and social relationships difficult for many children. [2]
Television viewing is up, much of which (and here I start to make some rash generalizations, unfounded by the fact that I am neither a sociologist, nor a parent) is probably due to the rise of the two-income household. In many of these households, the time spent between when the child gets home and the first of the parents get home is spent watching TV or playing video games. There is little physical activity as well as very little social interaction involved while TV watching is in progress. The social interaction, especially at a young age, is very important for developing good conversation and language skills. Much of a child's early language development is learned through example.

When it comes to conversation, though TV is not the only detractor. I've encountered one child in particular whose language skills were very weak, in terms of pronunciation. Her mother was a stay-at-home mom, who was also very careful about regulating the child's TV intake. However (and this may be due to a certain amount of shyness), her pronunciation of words was terrible since she lacked interaction with other children. Her pronunciation was never corrected by her parents because they understood her; there was no need to correct it. Essentially she had developed her own dialect. Needless to say, I felt like I was talking to someone from rural New Zealand, or a Cockney Londoner: I required a translator.

I find that fact that I'm interested in the use of the English language very amusing. I'm a mathematician and computer scientist by trade. Almost as a rule, we have very little formal training in written (and verbal) communications. Many of us do a lot of reading, which is a great way to research writing and language usage. The only thing missing from this sort of research are the formal rules that back things up (like the use of it's versus its, something I needed explained to me to start using them correctly). Still, we're also very good emulators. Much of our sciences are learn-by-example types of sciences. Another reason that we're a lot like little children.

[1] The first English language news pamphlet was The Weekly Newes, published in London in 1622. This wasn't a daily, but was printed whenever there was an interesting event. The first daily was the London Gazette, published in 1666, which is widely considered the first true newspaper. A Brief History of Newspapers, Phil Barber

[2] How Television Viewing Affects Children, University of Maine Cooperative Extension

Monday, April 25, 2005


I read a lot. More so ever since I've reduced my TV intake to about 3 shows a week. The problem with that is there is some much to read and so little time. I know, everyone says that, but for me it's actually a problem.

It seems like the more you read and are seen reading, the more people have a book that they think you would enjoy. Or it is, in fact, a book you would enjoy. It gets loaned to you, or it sits on the shelf at the bookstore with that little voice saying "buy me, buy me. I just want to be read." And so forth.

So I have more books than I know what to do with.

I'm currently reading three. One lightweight one: the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I picked that one back up because it was late, I couldn't sleep and a really needed something that I wouldn't have to really think about. Also with the movie coming out in a week, I thought I would remind myself that it really is a good story even if the film people haven't a clue.

One Shakespeare play: the Tempest. I've never read it before nor seen it performed, so I thought I'd pick it up. Also, I was reluctant to go to class and needed something to read for an hour. It was $1.95. cheapest interesting thing I could find. To say a vast understatement, it's pretty good so far.

One tough book: Godel, Esher and Bach. It's a book about mathematics, knowledge representation, thinking and machines. Weird. Fascinating. Well written. Pretty much all that I would love to write myself. It uses an allegorical device for describing concepts between chapters. This makes the material surprisingly accessible.

Now I just got a fourth book. It's a loaner. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, a novel. The thing about loaners, for me anyway, is that I have to read them right away, otherwise, it will never be read. This is true for any book I own, even one's that I've started. If, for some reason, I have to stop a book for an extended period of time, I may never come back to it. Also if I don't start it right away, it will never get started, due to the fact that I may no longer be /in the mood for/interested in/care about/ the book.

So, for now, I have a fourth. It's going to be a busy Spring.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Fits and Starts

I really enjoy working in the start-up environment. I love the pace, the energy, and the enthusiasm, as well as the crap that goes along with it. There's also a camaraderie that forms, when the chemistry is right. Many solid friendships are formed out of these environments. The common struggle to make a name/fortune/killer-application seems to bond people together.

We all like to think that it's just a job. It's a lifestyle.

It allows a developer to be as creative as possible in there work. More often than not, the problems are second only to university research programs in terms of cutting edge. One can push the limits of the technology. Often this is just to be cool, but, just as often, because there's no time/money to really get bigger, better hardware.

There's a joy in putting as much into it as possible. There's also a joy, if it's a product company, of knowing that a customer uses the product. It gives a true feeling of accomplishment. Certainly, customers are a pain in the ass, but the feedback is really valuable. It can become a real partnership in developing a great application.

They can get really stale, though. That's the problem with start-ups. There's a point between making or breaking that the creativity can stagnate. Whether it's waiting for success or waiting for the next round of funding, there comes a point where things can't move forward with out a change.

It's also the point where every start-up executive believes that it's time to become a "real company." This means lots of process, documentation, managers, managers, managers. As a developer, and (at least I'd like to think) a creative one at that, this can become very stifling. I've been in, but never through, all the stages. That last one's the toughest.

Much of the cause for being stifled is our training. Many developers (I won't give myself the moniker "hacker") have been trained as Computer Science students. In a majority of the programs there is very little time spent on how to be a good software developer in industry. Its all very academic. The focus is on solving little problems with little solutions. This requires very little in the way of documentation (the code speaks for itself. Usually it has a terrible slurred voice and speaks in guttural, single letter words, but nonetheless...). Students don't have any deadlines aside from a due-date.

Students (at least student hackers) are also still in that stage of discovery. They are really enjoying learning about languages and what can be done with them. What are the limits, what are the benefits and the detractions. They are in those ivy halls of innovation, where limits are pushed and broken every day (I'm not say that the academic life is all wine and roses. There's a lot of shit work being done: getting grants, getting published, departmental politics, that sort of thing).

This feeling can be found in early-stage start-ups. The bounds have not been put in place (again, exceptions made for money). Much of work is research and development, writing prototypes and throwing in something really cool. It means late nights hacking and beer. There's is a fair amount of beer.

Beer (or alcohol of some form or another) is a really important part of the start-up process. The lubrication provide lets loose ideas. The mutual inebriation of the team generates excitement as the ideas pour forth. Like any ideas formed when alcohol is involved, ninety percent of it is total crap. But there are a few gems that come out of those discussions.

It's in these wonderful, free conversations that a real camaraderie is formed. Often these are discussions that include most members of the company, including the founders/CEO/top-dogs. It helps in developing a certain loyalty to the management. Like officers in the trenches, the infantry starts to believe that they'll be taken care off when they're sent over the top.

Often a false belief. Here's where I inject a slight note of cynicism. Unlike army officers, execs are out for themselves, just as much as the developers should be. They'll lay employees off, in order for the company to survive. The are officers of the company, and the company is not its employees (although, I believe this is a fallacy on their part). No loyalty should overlook the fact that the developers need to watch out for there own needs and happiness. Chasing the big bucks is tempting. It's glitter can be blinding.

That being said, it's worth the risk. I'm shopping around for something new. I miss the fresh start provided in a start-up, the cutting-edge, the do-it-yourself feeling. I miss building something new. I miss working on things I've never done before. I've toyed with the idea of starting my own.

Now that's the ultimate risk.

Lot's of reference and reverence to Paul Graham, who writes some great essays.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Radio Renaissance

Radio has recently had a renaissance in Minneapolis.

The launch of The Current has revitalized radio on the FM tuner. It brandishes independent music with skill and wit. Playing both local and international groups with equal zeal, it's helping to familiarize listeners with more new music than ever before.

Play on the station has received both acclaim and criticism. The music ranges from Bob Dylan to The Shins. The Current has been lauded for its variety and chance-taking. After playing a new song, one DJ actually apologized and said he would never play that one again. Criticism falls on the station for its choice of playing predominantly white music, with the majority of African-American music coming from early jazz and blues singers.

On top of the variety, the station keeps the locals informed of Twin Cities-area music. Bands, like the Olympic Hopefuls, are getting more airplay than they otherwise would on the nationally run radio stations. It's also valuable to here about concert schedules for bands that the listener now may have actually heard.

I can't help comparing the station to one of my favorite stations in the independent music world, KEXP of Seattle. The Current has a diverse selection of music but much of it is very mellow. KEXP, on the other hand (particularly the morning show), provides both high-energy music as well as mellow moments. The combination of both provides for more variety of mood than the new Minneapolis station. I hope that as the Current matures it will provide more variety of musical styles.

To say the least, it's still a vast improvement over the standard radio fare.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Fortress of Solitude

Jonathan Lethem, in Fortress of Solitude, has created a tale of growing up in Brooklyn that is a love-hate relationship with the city. Coming on the heals of his previous novel, Motherless Brooklyn, Lethem delves deeper into his love of the city. Having been raised by a similar set of parents as those portrayed in the novel, one may speculate about how much of his own childhood experiences have been weaved into the story.

Fortress of Solitude is divided into two parts. The first follows the childhood of the story's main character, Dylan Ebdus as he navigates the world of Brooklyn in the mid-1970's. He chronicles both the creation of his meek (white) personage, and that of the confident, strong (black) character of his neighbor and best friend, Mingus Rude. The color of the two character's is an undercurrent of the novel. That distinction is one of the sole things that sets each on their paths.

Dylan is moved to Brooklyn by his hippie mother and artist father, Abraham. His mother is complex, explosive, brooding; essentially a manic-depressive woman. Abraham is a dedicated artist, always in his studio working on his art. The manic-depressive nature of the mother leaves the reader with a constant feeling of abandonment, eventually resulting in actual abandonment.

Rude is the envy of every kid on the block. He is at ease with anyone. Correctly respectful to those respect is due, and street savvy in the situations that require it. His connection with Dylan is based on their motherlessness. Dylan learns much of his street wisdom from Mingus, and in doing so, develops a boyish crush (for a lack of a better way of discribing it).

Each boy is being raised by an increasingly isolated father. Mingus' father, Barris Rude, Jr., is a jazz singer whose star was fading, isolates himself in a world of drugs and parties. Abraham isolates himself with his art. Both fathers, in their ways, still strive to provided for their sons. Abraham provides the means for good schools and a good life, even by sacrificing his art. Barris provides Mingus with with all the elements for partying: money, space, and drugs.

The first half is written in a vibrant style, with an almost stream-of-consciousness method. It gives the time frame of childhood the feeling of free flowing memory. It treats the events and happenings in the same fashion as one treats their own childhood memories. Lethem spends time on those events that are significant to the character: time spent tagging buildings, sessions of drug abuse, summers. Apart from the introduction of school's terror for Dylan, very little time is spent on his school experiences. For Dylan and Mingus, school is merely a holding pen, a prison, before release into the wilds of Brooklyn.

There is a wonderful divider, separating the two halves of the book. Written as liner notes for a boxed-set of Barris Rude, Jr., it is a fantastic way of relieving the suspense that is built up at the end of the first half. It creates a very real history of Rude's career in music that brings a new life to the character.

The second half takes place in the present. Dylan, living in California as a music journalist (the liner notes were "authored" by him), is still reeling from the effects of his childhood. His past has permeated his life through a severe, unacknowledged depression. It is now written in a first person perspective with a more journalistic style. The remainder of the book follows Dylan's attempts to reconcile with his own past. While this is well-written and well executed, it shadows the first half of the book, in terms of story.

Overall, Fortress of Solitude is a marvelous picture of growing up in a city that is at one of it's darkest points. The characters are deep and moving, the imagery is wonderful and the style of the text is great. Lethem excels in his style, as always.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Performance Blogs

A short follow-up to a previous post (though, now I can't figure out what the hell the title was supposed to mean).

A decent list of blog fiction is here. It has a rather diverse selection of works that are currently active. (I, however, am not responsible for lost or stolen links. Any content that is found to be offensive is your own damned fault. Why are you so easily offended?)

Also, a rather interesting one is The Mexican Year, a story about two people and the Mexican border. This work is structure with almost serialized chapters, each one told in the perspective of the main characters.

One of the interesting things about most blog fiction that I have noticed is how their blend of fiction with the blog format has created something that is often hard to distinguish from reality. Most of the sites have very little in the way of admission that is a fictional piece. Often times, even the about page is fictional (She's a Flight Risk, is a good example).

This adds a certain quality to the story. It makes it almost a piece of performance art. Subtract away the physical of a performance piece and what you are left with is the dramatic portion, a player immersed in a character or set of characters. The reader is, like all good fiction, almost believing it, even though he/she knows that it is not real.

It can be imagined that the author sits down before there computer and gets into character, as any actor would. What is then presented is either a great set of improv, or a well-planned and well-timed performance. Either way they assume their role and take the stage, giving their all.

Sunset on the Bosphorus Posted by Hello

In The Next Issue...

Generally, my brain works as follows: I think of an idea, I like it, I nurture it, I have visions of grandeur, I promptly forget it. If I don't write it down, I never think of it again. If I do write it down, I usually return to it a little while later to realize that the idea is total crap. Well, not total crap, but just not as cool as I thought, and usually devoid of endings.

So on that note...

Some future things that may potentially be considered for the possibility of be written about:

  • Music: I listen to enough music, but have never tried to put anything down about it
  • Fortress of Solitude: a review
  • Fiction of Everyday Things
  • The Current: a review
  • Wedding DJ's: the time warp they're stuck in and the people who love it
  • Travels in Turkey (which has been on my list of things to write about for a freakin' long time, I just haven't really sat down to write about it)
  • Startups: Surviving, bailing and generally enjoying the rush
Seems like an ample set of topics for the rest of April. As I'm always reading, I really should start posting more book reviews (write about what you know, they say).

Friday, April 15, 2005

My PR Guy

Cover letters are that PR guy for the resume. They come in, make up some snappy phrases about one's abilities, gloss over the failures (or spin them to some effect), and general try to make something incredible mediocre seem incredible.

I know. I'm friends with that PR guy. He's really good at what he does. Unfortunately, I have to do the cover letter writing.

I'm no PR guy. Notice my profile.

I do, however, have a book. It's one of those books with a bunch of cookie-cutter cover letters. I know that I'm supposed to concentrating on improving my writing, but I do need to be serious about the cover letter. I don't want to come off as an ass or a nut job.

Imagine my writing a cover letter like I'm writing this particular post, in a more stream of consciousness style with a brevity of editing.

Dear So-and-so,

I've had a lot of experience in my field. The sort of experience that makes me a great potential employee.

I've excellent communication skills. Just take a look at my blog. I mean, really, if you'd look at the writing there, I should be shoe in. It's amazing how well I can get my point across.

I look forward to hearing from you, when and if you ever pull this out of your legally-required resume archive.

Mostly Sincerely,


That might not go over so well.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Sweeping the Nation

Mac mania has returned.

My laptop is on the way out. It has given me a good couple of years, but it's time to have it put to sleep (or at least put Linux on it). It has numerous problems: screen goes red, DVD rom doesn't do anything but spin, that sort of thing.

For the past year or so I have been thinking about getting a Mac. This thought has been a low-priority thread in my brain. It pops up to do some processing only when something new goes wrong with my laptop or I reinstall the OS on my desktop.

I really confirmed this think by a few really interesting essays/interviews that read recently (referenced from the venerable Slashdot).

The interview with John Rentzsch convinced me through the following: "...Each major OS release makes my old hardware go faster -- not exactly the way to push newer hardware, Apple" I really like the idea of being able to use my computers for the lifetime of the hardware. The way I do this now is install Linux on the older hardware (see above), which helps to get (a) some more life out of the hardware, and (b) a playground to do stuff I wouldn't normally do on my every day hardware (I don't like to burn out my laptop, its too important).

Additionally, I'm a java developer. In theory, this means that I can do the same things that I do now, only on a better OS. I don't limit myself to just java, however. I dabble in other things, like lisp, or nesC. Given that the OS is based on FreeBSD, it has been much easier to port open source implementations of compilers and interpreters for these langauges. Consequently, the are ports of many open-source applications. The gain here is openness and flexibility.

Paul Graham, a lisp advocate/author-of-books-and-essays-on-the-subject-of, wrote one of the most convincing arguments: "The reason, of course, is OS X. Powerbooks are beautifully designed and run FreeBSD. What more do you need to know?"

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Author's Note on Electric Mythology

Strangely, I seem to have gone on a rather holistic approach to understanding the effects of the Internet. One thing that seems to be happening in our society (or at least the scientific/technical part of society) is a move away from religion. Simultaneously there is a move toward religion by those who, I think, are afraid of change.

This is not a Bad Thing. This is how Humans have behaved for thousands of years.

This is the reason that the internet will some how evolve and entwine itself (or be evolved and entwined) into the spiritual side of society. As it grows more complex and difficult to understand, some parts of society may turn towards some form of religion.

As in the previous post, this is already happening. But it isn't out of lack of understanding. At least, not yet. Like traditional pagans, which involve nature as their main point of worship, it has merely added cyberspace as an "natural" element.

Researchers are working towards making cyberspace more like an alternate reality. Massively-multi-player games (like Everquest or Star Wars: Galaxies) are a prime example of this. They are simulated realities were a player is a simulated version of themselves. The ideal evolution of this concept is that cyberspace itself is one massively multi-player experience.

Once it simple becomes another form of reality, religion will follow en masse. The underlying aspects of the cyberspace universe (or universes) will be understood by the hackers who created it. That still leaves millions (billions?) who would be left with the same problems and issues the have here in the real world: social problems.

Social problems have social solutions.

Electric Mythology

I recently re-read William Gibson's Count Zero. The novel, written back in the late 80's has the internet (Cyberspace, or the "Matrix", as he puts it) containing constructs of a spiritual nature. These constructs are independent entities derived from an fractured AI. From the ashes of this fracturing, they've created themselves as deities from Voodoo religion.

I found this to be an incredibly interesting idea, and began to wonder about the existing Internet. Could it possibly advance to a point where software could obtain this level of sophistication? As the Net becomes a more immersive experience, how would we observe these software constructs? In the context of Cyberspace, would the become gods?

I was curious to see what the current state of Cyberspace was, in regards to this. Is there a mythology of the Internet?

Interestingly, there are two.

The first is a rather mundane form of mythology. They stem from the use of the word myth as a misconception or a popular belief. For example, the myth of that an eighty-hour work week for internet programmers is necessary for business. These myths are more related to a persons actions or existence in the real worlds, but really has no bearing on their cyberspace existence.

The second is a little bit more bizarre.

During the early days of the Internet (and probably ongoing to this day) Mark Pesce attempted to inject Paganism into Cyberspace. As he put it, "Without the sacred there is no differentiation in space; everything is flat and gray. If we are about to enter cyberspace, the first thing we have to do is plant the divine in it."[1] The pagan belief is that "experience of the divine comes from the human mind."[2] Applying Paganism on top of Cyberspace was a simple step forward. Cyberspace is, in essence, a sum total of human knowledge; an outward presentation of the inner workings of the mind. It's information, pure and simple, but applied to network by human devices, and therefore, the techonopagans would argue, a path towards the divine.

Interestingly enough, most of these folks were equally inspired by Gibson's seminal work, Neuromancer. As he describes it: "Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination...A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data." In this complexity, there lies the beginnings of a mythology. The Net is a wholly complex system, and becoming more so each day.

In complex and chaotic systems there is the concept of emergent behavior. Informational systems possibly follow the same chaotic rules (sounds like a bit of an oxymoron). As Cyberspace moves toward being the sum total of human knowledge, the emergence of divinity and spirituality in and around the network is real possibility. It has a greater potential of emerging, since there is also a social need to share in a collective divine experience.

It will be interesting to watch and see.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

First Round Draft

There are two opposing views of how a writer (or aspiring writer) should go about the business of writing. One, from the book Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway, involves constant writing. Write at consistent time. Don't worry about the content. Just write. This is the first draft. It's crap from the beginning. The good drafts are the following ones. Each pass through the material edits, enlarges, trims and otherwise improves the overall quality of the piece. The important bit is to write and practice.

The other, to quote a writer friend of mine is [the lack of caps is due to the author]

write. if you want. don't force it.
let the creative energy come out of you.
Find the right time to write for you in the day. All that can be done in that time is to open the window and let creativity in.

The major difference here is the reference to creativity as a driving force of the initial draft. The first opinion seems to place the creativity in the whole process. The second seems to place much of the creativity in the beginning. Knowing my friend, I know that he puts a lot of stock in the rewrite phase, but what he is advocating is that one can only write when they are creative. This thinking is usually the kind that results in self-inflicted shotgun wounds.

There are, I think, two kinds of writers (I know, I know. People who put people into two categories are small minded): those need to be creative from the get go, and those who don't. Those who do can get blocked for long periods of time, affected by their mood or environment. My friend is one of these. The other set of writers use techniques to generate creativity: free writing and other tools.

I certainly sound like I'm advocating the first opinion. I'm definitely using that reasoning for writing daily and publishing daily (well, almost daily). I do need ideas to begin with. Many of these essays start with an idea. I'm comfortable with my environment and mood right now, which might be why the ideas are occurring on a regular basis.

For example, the kernel for this particular essay resulted from the writing of the previous. The content didn't trigger, but the fact that I was not happy with the result. Now the plan for it is to let it sit for a while, and come back to it. In other words, it needs to go through a second draft phase.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Why, Oh Why, Do I Love Paris?

(I apologize in advance for the lack of accents on the French words that may follow. I don't know how to put those into this document)
I love Paris in the spring time
I love Paris in the fall
I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles
I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles

I love Paris every moment
Every moment of the year
I love Paris, why oh why do I love Paris
Because my love is here

- Cole Porter
I love Paris. It's it a beautiful city. Possibly the most beautiful in the world. Certainly the French would say so.

I spent two weeks there in early January. If you've thought to avoid Paris in the winter, don't and do go. It has a kind of beauty against the grey winter sky. The cold air makes the cafes all the more inviting.

I really needed a break. It had been over year since my last vacation. Too long. It had been a hectic fall with a heavy graduate school schedule and continuing to work part-time. This trip was about two things for me: relaxing and taking pictures.

Paris, as big cities go, is surprisingly relaxing. It is an incredibly laid back city. This is remarkable for a city that is in the statistically most productive country in the world.

Some of us find wandering about in museums to be relaxing. Stopping at a painting or a sculpture for a moment to appreciate its beauty or message can be quite relaxing. Paris is a museum. Not because it is old, but because it is art. It is a wonderful city for wandering. Wandering the neighborhoods, one can stop and admire a building designed to inspire awe, or designed with a practical beauty. One can appreciate any one of a multitude of statues erected to honor of some historical personage.

I spent a few days wandering in Montmartre. It became one of my favorite neighborhoods. First off, it is on a hill. A tall hill. Not San Francisco tall, but tall for Paris. That hill makes for fantastic terrain on which to build a neighborhood. Stairs join streets at various levels, giving Montmartre an incredible pedestrian feel to it.

Paris, aside from being a museum, contains some of the world's finest. The first time I was in the city, I missed out on the Musee d'Orsay. The building alone is an amazing piece of architecture. It is in a former, nineteenth-century train station. The main hall is will lit by a ceiling of opaque glass. This makes for fantastic viewing of the impressionist sculptures. The paintings housed there are wonderful. Not normally being one for modern art I enjoyed the works immensely. I think this was due to impressionism's proto-modernism. The art was still contained images of reality (of sorts).

As a single man, Paris is an exceptionally beautiful city. The women of Paris (that sounds like a pin-up calendar) are amazing. One thing that stands out in European cities as that people, women especially, know how to dress. Even in what appears to be casual wear, they look sophisticated. Because of this, one might make the assumption that they are all high-maintenance. Not having truly met any of them, I would still say this is probably not the case. I did have some rather pleasant interactions with a young women working in a pattiserie. She was very patient with my oh-so broken French.

Ah, Paris.

One of the benefits of staying in hostels is that you meet an incredible set of people. The first week I was there, I met New Zealanders, Australians, Canadians (so foreign) and the occasional American. I really like the Kiwis. As backpackers go, they are some of the most friendly, outgoing people I have ever met.

Aside from just meeting new people from other parts of the world, the hostel-goer picks up a lot of tips on what to visit and where to eat. The best tip I received, was to visit Shakespeare and Co, an English language bookstore on the Seine, for tea. This was one of the more surreal experiences of the trip. The people in attendance where the strangest collection of English speakers, and possibly mad, as well. Especially the old English woman with the one-eyed dog. All of them threw around philosophical keywords, as if it were a meeting of Karmic venture capitalists, each trying to impress the other more. No one was listening, everyone was speaking.

Those of us listening, me a computer programmer and my two companion lawyers, took it all in and found it to be hilarious. Enough so that we returned for a poetry reading the next night. There was only one poet with any talent, and she wrote marvelous poems out of here life experience. It would have been nice to pick up a copy of her work. The rest was amusing drivel, causing me to leave the room, for want of bursting out laughing at their belief that they were profound.

(I'm not implying that I have any more profoundness then they do, only the fact that I know that I don't).

My trip to Paris wound down with the feeling that it was either time to go home or time to find a job and stay for the duration. I felt familiar with the city and with the culture, at least a little bit. I had enjoyed the atmosphere of the place.

Still, I think that I should have stayed.

Ah, Paris.